Want to lose weight? Keep a food journal, stay away from restaurants and never skip a meal, say top nutrition researchers in the latest research, published Friday in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As part of the study, 123 Seattle-area middle-aged women (between ages 50 and 75), who were sedentary and either overweight or obese, were selected to participate in a year-long experiment that incorporated either a diet- or diet- and exercise-focused weight loss plan. As part of both plans, which relied heavily on self-monitoring, all participants were given a series of questionnaires and food frequency surveys. Successful volunteers were able to lose about 10 percent of their body weight, regardless of whether they did the diet and exercise or diet-only intervention.
What the researchers found was that, when it comes to weight reduction, it doesn't matter how you do it -- you just need to find behaviors that work to support reducing portion sizes and calories. After reviewing relevant clinical trials, the study's authors were able to identify certain activities that were more effective than others.
"When it comes to weight loss, evidence from randomized, controlled trials comparing different diets finds that restricting total calories is more important than diet composition such as low-fat versus low-carbohydrate. Therefore, the specific aim of our study was to identify behaviors that supported the global goal of calorie reduction," said the study's lead author, Dr. Anne McTiernan of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said in a statement.
So what behaviors worked? Women who kept food journals lost six more pounds than counterparts who did not, though it was important to keep good journaling habits, such as recording honestly and accurately, consistantly and diligently reporting and adding details like how foods were cooked, what condiments were served and other complete information.
Additionally, eating out and skipping meals were associated with less effective weight loss. In fact, women who skipped a meal lost, on average, eight fewer pounds than those who ate all meals. And women who said they ate lunch out at least five days per week, lost an average six fewer pounds than those who cooked for themselves.
Aside from these three important tools, researchers believed that the real secret to weight loss is realistic goals. ""If you weigh 250 pounds, you won't get down to 125 overnight," McTiernan told ABC News. "That might take a couple of years, or you might need medical help. The good news is that you get major health benefits by just reducing by 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight."